A Swift defense of concerts

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This past month has been big for music, both internationally and in Thailand. Last weekend, Bangkok saw Coldplay perform; and internationally the 66th Annual Grammy Awards took place. This weekend, Ed Sheeran came to town, and just two days ago Usher performed his greatest hits at the Superbowl Halftime Show, a classic American tradition that has been cemented in popular culture.

These events have long faced criticism of being an unnecessary extravaganza that seems tasteless in the face of the various world crises of the day. The criticism suggests, perhaps not without merit, that the lavish amount of money may be better spent on social welfare or other public needs.

But I don’t see it that way. As I looked out onto the sea of people singing about a sky full of stars in unison last weekend in Rajamangala, I understand why Indian, Vietnamese, and Chinese fans flew all the way to Thailand; and why people pay an extortionate amount of money for flights and plane tickets to see Taylor Swift in Singapore, Japan, and Australia.

Some people defend spending on music by pointing to the significance of tours on the economy – as the running half-joke goes, everywhere Taylor Swift tours, she boosts the local economy. But my defense is a much more personal one.

While some see celebrities creating art and music as a reflection of their privilege, for me, I see it as evidence that people naturally turn to art when they are free from hunger, poverty, and want. Or on the flip side, when people have nothing but poverty, hunger, and want, they turn to art. It shows in the songs people sing together when they defy oppressive regimes: when Iranian women dance in defiance of certain death, and when Afghan sisters sing about pain under the Taliban and hopes of a better future. They are anthems of revolution and rebellion, remembrance and redemption.

The Grammys, the Super Bowl, and these concerts on tour are historic moments because they are a celebration of the human experience. They are significant not despite what is going on in the world but because of it. 

The songs nowadays that are nominated in the Grammys, or sung in the Super Bowl or in the concerts in Bangkok and elsewhere may not all be songs of freedom. But they are still songs that connect us all, through human love and loss, hope and heartbreak, desire and despair.

And this is something that, for all our differences, for all that so deepy divides us, is so intrinsically human  and so unifying. Because all these songs and narratives tell a story of a shared universal experience that we all yearn to be part of. Whether it is Swift singing about her red scarf, or Ed Sheeran singing about a lamppost back on sixth street, or when Coldplay sang about a sky full of stars, it all connects us to be part of something greater – the human experience of wanting to love, and to be loved. To form a connection. To feel like we matter. 

Or as Tracy Chapman sang in her timeless hit Fast Car two Sunday nights ago, to have a feeling like I belonged; to have a feeling like that I could be someone.


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